Coached by the legendary Bob Hurley, the St Anthony Friars are the most dominant high school powerhouses in the nation. Assistant Coach Dan Murphy is a lot more reticent when it comes to the titles- labelling the team as just the third or fourth best, per rankings. However, as they do, scouting reports don’t tell the whole story. Behind the 1100+ wins, 24 state championships and 4 more national championships since coach Hurley took charge, there are tens of thousands of hours of preparation and hard work.
Coach Murphy has been an assistant coach to coach Hurley for 3 years, when after having attended one of his clinics he received an offer that he could not refuse. Last week, we sat down with him to gain a special insight into what it takes to build a championship winning program. What immediately struck us following the interview was how much dedication it took. Like the most successful, innovative companies- the Apples and Teslas of the world, a lasting legacy requires coaches to create a culture. When Coach Murphy was recounting stories of his time at St Friars we learned that this culture was created by an acute attention to detail, in every moment of practice, and enabled by a detailed plan. Today, we give you some advice on how to build a championship winning program from the top down- from planning to culture to practice.
1100 wins later, it’s easy to see how the winning culture of the St. Anthony Friar’s is formed. With 8 NBA players and over 200 players sent to college, coach Hurley and Murphy’s jobs with regards to persuading players to play their way is relatively easy. Players are willing to score 13-15 points per game as opposed to leading the team each night with 40, if it means that the team wins and they get recruited.
Nevertheless, there were many great takeaways from the interview that hold true for every team, regardless of where the culture is at. The first, as noted by coach Murphy, is the need to look at better teams for inspiration. This can be by looking at the NBA, watching clips of the team orientated and league leading Golden State Warriors or the San Antonio Spurs in action and applying some of their basic principles to your practice. One idea raised by coach Murphy was the principle of “0.5 seconds decision making”, used by the Spurs as the basis for their lightning fast ball movement. After catching the ball, players are given half a second to decide whether to pass, drive, or shoot, which prevents the ball from staying in one place and the defense getting set. Another idea from the NBA is coach Brad Steven’s quote that “two ball reversals increases the chance of scoring dramatically”. The bottom line is that team orientated basketball rather than the one man teams often seen at the school levels is a necessity for a successful culture, and the principles and inspiration for this should be drawn from the best levels of basketball.
Another area to head towards when building a team culture is your own community. Coach Murphy suggests that each coach seek out the best coach in their area for advice- through clinics, correspondence, etc. After all, he says, who better to learn from then someone who has already achieved what you want to do? The early you reach out, the more you will benefit as a coach.
Consider this: the coaching team at St Friars spends more time planning than actually practicing. Our interview with coach Murphy contained so many tips on how to plan that you’ll have to watch the interview to get them all- but here are 4 of the best:
Fundamentals are the building blocks, work on them everyday. Coach Hurley considers certain aspects of the game so important that he demands his players improve in them each day. One example is the defensive stance, which he’ll work on for a couple minutes at the start of each practice to improve strength and endurance in the correct form.
Be a skills coach, not a drills coach. This was a great quote from coach Murphy that stood out to us. What does it mean? Drills aren’t to be perfected but to teach key concepts. It’s alright if players make mistakes in execution of the drill but the most basic skills- communication, effort, focus can never be lacking.
Rotate a core group of drills. This is to help reinforce the principle above, so that players get good but never master a drill, preventing them from “going through the motions”. A core rotation should be formed for each main skill- shooting, offense, defense, dribbling. With great resources at your disposal like the Practice Planner, there is NO excuse for not having new ideas.
Try organizing practice like coach Hurley. According to coach Murphy, coach Hurley structures his practices in this fashion- an hour of skills, including stretching, warmups, and position specific skills. Then it’s time to teach the offense and press, finishing with live games. Importantly, coach Hurley plans out his practices minute by minute, writing them down on a time sheet. Throughout this practice the tempo is kept high.
Consider these two coach Hurley stories:
The day before the Friars are set to play Lower Merion High School- led by Kobe Bryant, a snowstorm keeps two starters from attending practice. As a result, coach Hurley benches both players, yet the Friars still win the game.
In live games in practice, when a player misses an open pass to take a bad shot, the bench can’t resist standing up and yelling out to that player.
Whilst one story seems like the contents of an ESPN documentary and the other, merely an everyday occurrence, they in fact flow from the same source- coach Hurley’s unrelenting reinforcement of the standards of dedication, team work and accountability. Whilst high school teams are often led by 1 or 2 “star” players, coach Hurley instead demands that everyone is held to the same standards. This is no doubt part of the reason for the great respect he receives from his players.
Overall, the most important takeaway we gained from coach Murphy is that the standard set in the moment of practice is set ages ago- by the standard of expectations and planning from the coach. Whilst it seems like a chicken and egg question- did the culture or winning come first, we say that both come about from vivacious planning and learning. If these learnings have helped you why not share the love with another coach?
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